Sunday, May 21, 2017

The Patch is Back

After dealing with Take All Patch  throughout much of the spring of 2016, it was a real bummer to see the signs of it once again a few weeks ago.  This disappointment was compounded by the fact that following last year's battle with Take All, we had taken a more proactive approach to handling this disease, and made preventative fungicide treatments last fall, using three different treatment protocols.

Take All Patch on #7 approach.

As with many root-borne turf diseases, once you see the damage to the foliage from Take All Patch, it's often too late to do anything, as the plant's root system has already been compromised.

Whenever we make any treatment to the course, we try to leave check plots to see if the treatment was effective, or not.  However, this disease is seemingly so random in nature that it's difficult to quantify what impact the fall fungicide treatments may have had.  As General Manager, Joel, pointed out, maybe the treatments actually worked well, and we'd be in a whole lot worse shape now without them.

While prevention is the key to this pathogen, we are testing a curative approach this spring, using a liquid fertilizer and wetting agent program.  We marked a small patch on #7 approach, so we can easily track whether the disease is getting worse, or if the spray has stopped it, and we start to see recovery in the Bentgrass.

Like most turf diseases, Take All Patch is only active in a fairly narrow temperature range.  Its appearance in 2017 was later into the spring than in 2016, leaving us hopeful that it will be gone sooner rather than later this summer.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Greens Aerification

The greens were aerified last Monday and Tuesday.  As we have the past few years, we went with a two step process, using hollow tines first, then following this up with the use of the Dryject system.  People often ask, why we are aerifying the greens twice, basically at the same time?

Each of these two methods of aerification has its own strengths.  While just one of the two may work well for some greens, with Laurel Creek's greens now closing in on 28 years old, we find that the two different methods complement each other, without increasing the recovery time we would see from just core aerifying.

In the case of the hollow tines, we use a very tight hole spacing to remove a significant amount of organic matter from the top few inches of the root zone.  These plugs are scooped up using a core harvester and removed.  We then apply an average of three tons of sand per green, and broom this in to fill the holes.

The next day the Dryject contractor arrives with four of his amazing machines.  This unique piece of equipment creates a very small hole on the surface, while injecting a significant amount of sand into the soil profile, at a deeper level than we can achieve with our conventional aerifier.  While this process isn't removing organic matter, it is diluting it, and providing great drainage channels into the heart of the green's root zone.

Grass growers may get a bit giddy seeing the results of the Dryject treatment, shown in the plug below.  This is exactly what the greens need to get through the upcoming summer heat.

Immediately after aerifying on Monday and Tuesday, we began using our new roller on Wednesday to smooth the greens.  At 1,500+ pounds, this is a pretty heavy piece of equipment, and the results could be seen and felt immediately.

Between the hollow tine and Dryject, we used over 170,000 pounds of sand.  Admittedly, there are times when it may appear that we were a bit heavy-handed with the sand, as you can see in the picture of #9 green below.

However, it is generally better to have too much sand than too little after this operation.  Check out the picture taken just two days later--we are actually starting to see some green in the green.  

Without question, when it comes to aerification, we stand by the old saying that you've got to break a few eggs to make an omelette.  When asked why we have to aerify the greens when they've been so good, the answer is simple:  Because we want them to continue to be among the best putting surfaces.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Sod Management

Sodding an area gives instant gratification--what was brown in the morning, is green in the afternoon.  However, there are a few things to consider when deciding whether to go with seed or sod.  This would include the area's slope, the time of year, and the amount of traffic it will face.

In executing the Golf Course Master Plan work last summer and fall, sod was the logical choice in all areas.  Of course, with sod, we're growing it in a different location from where it started--think skin graft on a person.  In a golf course situation, the turf must be able to withstand quite a bit more extreme conditions than a typical backyard which has limited traffic.  Additionally, in the case of Bentgrass sod, it will have to endure a very low height of cut.

One of the best things we can do to help this sod acclimate to its new life on the golf course is to aerify it.  This reduces the thatch level, and increases pore space, giving the roots someplace to easily move into.  Aerification will also help to alleviate layering which may exist between the original soil, and the new soil.  For the lower cut Bentgrass green surrounds, aerifying, topdressing and smoothing with a mat gives us an opportunity to remove any tiny lumps and bumps, thus preventing scalping.

We currently see a window of opportunity to aerify with good results.  The turf is actively growing, and we're not yet facing the heat of the summer.  It is time to make some holes!

Bentgrass green surrounds on #16.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Heading Off Course

For the past five years, we've used this blog to keep you informed about what is happening on the golf course.  This week we're taking a break from golf, and heading off the course to take a quick look at a different kind of "behind the scenes project" which was recently completed.

It's unlikely that too many of you have had the opportunity to visit the Clubhouse boiler room--and truth be told, you really weren't missing much.  However, during the past month, Facilities Manager, David Shoemaker, and his team have worked with a contractor to make a significant improvement to this important piece of the Clubhouse infrastructure.

The picture below was taken during the transition of water heating systems.  The two original hot water heaters and huge 500 gallon storage tank are in the foreground.

Check out the difference with the old equipment removed.  The three new, tankless hot water heaters are more energy efficient and take up a fraction of the space of the old units.  The room looks so nice, it was deemed worthy of hanging some artwork on the wall.

One small challenge during this project was the removal of the old tank.  The Clubhouse had literally been built around the 500 gallon hot water storage tank.  Without five foot wide doorways, removing this in one piece was not an option.  Sam had to remove the outside jacket from the tank, then the insulation, and was finally able to use a reciprocating saw to cut the steel into manageable pieces.

With spring in full swing, and plenty of activity going on outside, we will be back on course next week!

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Back in the Bunkers

This spring, we've noticed that the sand in several of the new bunkers has not firmed up as we had expected.  Given that this is the same sand we've used in all of the previously renovated bunkers (which firmed very quickly), this has been something of a surprise, and has us looking into potential causes for the difference.

Inconsistent moisture is one potential factor here.  Obviously there is no irrigation running over the winter, and precipitation was hit and miss, with a very dry February and wet March.  While we often think of something dry as being firmer than when wet (like pasta, for example), that's not always the case.  If you've ever gone for a run on the beach, you quickly learn that the firmer sand is the wet sand, closest to the water.

In fact, for  tournament preparation, you will often see bunkers being watered by hand to keep the sand firm.  

While moisture may be playing a role, we are also revisiting how these new bunkers are being maintained.  With many of the new bunkers being smaller than the old ones, we have elected to hand rake them, instead of using a machine.  Even on the larger bunkers, where we do use the Sand Pro, the bunker faces are steeper than in the past, and we've been making sure the mechanical rake only stays on the flat portion of the bunker.

So, it's a bit ironic that we are now finding that our bunker maintenance protocol, which is designed to keep the bunkers in the best condition, may actually be contributing to the lack of sand firmness.  That is, with no machine in many of the bunkers, there's no on-going compaction.  With no machine on the steep faces, again, no compaction.  What's the answer?

Yes, we are using a Sand Pro to help compact the sand...However, this machine has no rake assembly on it, and it is the large flotation tires which are doing the packing work for us.  Last Sunday night we irrigated the green surrounds to wet the sand, and on Monday three team members spent all day checking and adjusting sand depth, and packing the sand.

This is clearly not a one and done job.  We will be looking to get back in these bunkers every couple of weeks initially, then back off as we see a change in the sand firmness.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Nesting Time

It's spring, and the time of year when we see lots of birds sitting on their nests, eagerly awaiting the arrival of their hatchlings.  As you play #14, take a look to the right of the green, and you can see a red-tailed hawk nest.

Due to the height of the nest, it's a bit difficult to get a clear view of the activity, but you may be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of mom (or dad) patiently sitting. 

Below, we saw one of the proud parent looking for a meal.

Following a successful hunt, breakfast is being prepared in a nearby tree.

And while driving across the bridge on #14, we got an up close look at some serious talons,

Once again, we look at this nesting as evidence of golf and the environment working together to provide habitat for wildlife.  So watch out rabbits, squirrels and snakes--there will be more mouths to feed this spring.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Tee Time

For several years, we were only aerifying tees in August, however this has proven to be insufficient to keep up with thatch accumulation, and many of the tees have become softer than is ideal.  Therefore, in addition to our August aerification, we have added a spring coring to the cultural practices program for tees.
#9 tee, four days post aerification.

While much of last week's weather was cold and wet, we were fortunate to get a brief window when we were able to aerify tees.  Despite heavy rain just a couple of days earlier, the conditions last Monday were perfect for the process.  Temperatures were warm enough to dry the surface and allow for a quick and easy cleanup, while not stressing the turf.  We topdressed the tees, broomed the sand in, and then received another shot of rain that evening, helping to move the sand off the surface and deeper into the holes.

While it often seems that we are fighting the weather, it's truly appreciated when things go as planned.


Sunday, April 2, 2017

Turf Research

Often times, when we discuss turfgrass research with anyone outside of the industry, they are amazed that individuals devote their entire lives to studying how to improve grass.  After all, it's just grass--seed, water, some fertilizer--you're good to go, right?

Well, from a golf course perspective, we demand much more from turf today than we did in the past.  Green speeds at today's professional tournaments are often times twice what they were 40 years ago.  Developing grasses that can actually survive under the abuse of extremely low mowing heights doesn't often happen by accident.

Again, if you think it's just grass, click on the link below and take a moment (or two) and see if you can wrap your head around the research done at Rutgers to develop more heat-tolerant Bentgrass:

 Candidate genes and molecular markers associated with heat tolerance in colonial Bentgrass

Turf research isn't just for golf courses.  With grass all around us, this work benefits most everyone through its use in home lawns and athletic fields.

Breeding varieties of grass which are more drought and wear tolerant, as well as disease and insect resistant, has obvious benefits.  Fewer inputs, conservation of resources, and a playing surface that can handle 12 soccer games every weekend are some of the goals.

Not quite as simple as getting out a spreader and throwing a bag of fertilizer in it, now is it!

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Honk Honk!

This time of year, when we hear honk honk, it's often not from a truck, but from some unwelcome guests:  Canada Geese.  Fortunately, there are only a few resident geese on the golf course, and we take pride in having been able to keep their numbers so low.

Remaining vigilant has been critical to the success in this endeavor, as two geese may quickly turn into eight geese next year, and dozens of geese the following year.  While best known to golfers for the mess they make on a course, they also munch on fine turf, and contribute to nutrient loading in the ponds.

However, despite our best efforts at discouraging them, year in and year out, one pair picks a great place to nest--on the island between #5 and 6.  Great that is, if you're a goose, but definitely not so great for us.
Don and Don survived their trip to Tyrell Island in the SS Minnow.

As our feathered friends prepared to nest this past week, we installed some wire around the island, to limit their ease of entry and exit to and from the water.

While trying to outsmart a goose doesn't sound like it should be too difficult, they do seem to adapt, and become less afraid of everything we throw at them.  With 16 ponds and close to 40 acres of wetlands on the property, goose management will undoubtedly remain an on-going challenge.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

What month is this?

While we were enjoying temperatures in the 70's during late February, our Golf Professional, John DiMarco, accurately predicted that we were going to get a good storm in March.  Yes, conditions are quite different this month than they were last, when we had the warmest February on record.  The dramatic change has a lot of people asking how the radical ups and downs in temperature will impact the course going forward.
Carts?  Maybe one equipped with tracks, or skis.

Currently, we don't have any cause for alarm.  As many know, ice is not good for turf.  Fortunately, we are in March, not January, so the nasty ice from last week's storm won't be around for long.

Another question is, could there be any benefit to the blast of cold air after a warm period?  That is, will this help take out some of the undesirables, such as weevils?  Unfortunately, it seems unlikely, as we had only started to see adult weevil movement in the warm weather, and insects tend to have some great survival mechanisms that let them ride out wacky weather patterns.

Likely, the greatest challenge this weather roller coaster will present is in how it impacts the timing of our applications for Poa seedhead, Crabgrass, and yes, Annual Bluegrass Weevil control.  Some of the phenological indicators that we typically rely on, such as Forsythia, may not work this year, due to injury they've sustained from the cold.  The use of Growing Degree Days will definitely be key in successful timing this year.

As is often the case, we may look back at 2017 and label it another "average" year.  However, the peaks and valleys that lead to these years certainly feel as if they are becoming more extreme.  Right now, we're just hoping that John DiMarco doesn't forecast a brutally hot and dry summer!

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Growing Degree Days--An Important Tool

When it comes to the weather, clearly no two years are alike; and with weather anomalies becoming quite common, correctly timing activities on the golf course is more challenging now than ever.  So how do we deal with a rollercoaster of temperatures--a record warm February, and now snow on the ground in March.  In many cases, one of the best ways we can know where we stand with the weather over an extended period, is by tracking growing degree days (GDD).

What are GDD?  In simple terms,  GDD is a measure of heat accumulation.  GDD can be used to track weed and insect activity, as well as more pleasant things such as when flowers will be blooming.

Whether it's a pre-emergent herbicide for Crabgrass, or a product for weevil control, these applications can't be timed for optimum efficacy if simply based on a fixed, predetermined date.  More often than not, doing so will mean you made the application either too early or too late, and the results will reflect this.

This time of year, one of the most important green spray applications is for the prevention of Poa seedhead development on the putting surfaces.
Limiting Poa seed development is critical in maintaining a smooth putting surface.

In the case of spraying to prevent Poa seedhead development, we start tracking GDD in January, and use 32 degrees as a base.  Each day, the high and low temperatures are averaged and 32 is subtracted from this.  (Negative results are not included, based on the assumption that a plant's development basically remains static on those days.)

As you can see below, due to the record warmth this year, we accumulated over 500 GDD through February.  How does this compare to other years?
2017 Growing Degree Days

Well, through February, 2015, we had only accumulated 68 GDD.  In other words, we are way ahead of 2015, and spraying on the same date these two years would yield entirely different results.  The initial spray for Poa seed prevention went out this year during the last week of February, whereas it was not made until the first week of April in 2015.
2015 Growing Degree Days

So, how have we done in the past with our seedhead control when using GDD?  The untreated check plot in this photo had significantly more seeds develop than the rest of the green.  While we'll never achieve 100% control, our goal is to avoid having the greens feel like you're putting on cauliflower in the spring.
Untreated check plot.

Preventing Poa seedhead development is not a one and done treatment for us.  We are continuing to monitor GDD to know the best time to make our next application.  Traditionally, the interval between sprays is about three weeks.  However, just as the super warm February temperatures had us going out earlier than ever with the first spray, March is now roaring like a lion, and thanks to our current cold spell, the next application will likely be delayed due to a lack of GDD accumulation.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Back on the Beach

We are often asked what we do during the winter.  An appropriate response this year might be, "What winter?"

Throughout much of January and February, tasks that we typically think of as in-season course maintenance (like mowing greens) have taken up quite a bit of the crew's time.

However, this has been offset to some extent by not having any snow removal to deal with, and we've managed to address a number of important projects.  This week the practice bunkers at the driving range got a makeover.

 The old sand was removed, the drain lines inspected and cleaned, and new sand was installed.  While not a huge undertaking, this was definitely needed.

And for the record, nobody is complaining about the lack of snow!

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Dam Removal

If you've watched the national news lately, you've likely seen the concerns about dams failing due to the heavy rains in the west.  In contrast to this, we've developed some dams on the golf course which we weren't looking for, and would like to get rid of.

These are referred to as "collar dams" and develop primarily due to sand accumulation from both bunker and topdressing sand over a period of time.  On several greens, the collar is now higher than the putting surface, thus preventing surface run-off of rain water.

Removing the dam requires a bit of delicate surgery on the green, collar and surrounds.  The first step includes checking the existing grades with a transit, and determining the area which needs to be regraded.  In order to have a smooth tie-in to the surrounding area, it's often necessary to start the grading well beyond the low point.

In the case of #3, we knew that an issue existed prior to last fall's construction on the surrounds.  The grading adjacent to the green and bunkers was done in a manner which would allow us to get some drainage once the green itself was addressed this winter.

The finished product.  The sod seams have been topdressed.  Winter (if that's really the season we're in) is typically the best time for us to tackle a job like this, as the sod will not require babysitting.  Now that it has a little more slope to it, this will truly be a knee-knocker of a pin placement...

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Pavilion Pad Project Prep

The first phase of construction on a new pavilion behind #9 green is now complete.  While some of the projects we undertake require weeks or months to finish, the team made quick work of the field prep for this area.

A transit level is definitely required when you need to create a flat surface on a sloped hill.

When it came time to do the concrete pad and footings, we left that part of the job to a contractor who does this day in and day out.

As we said, this is the first phase of this project.  Once completed, the pavilion will be used for many purposes during the golf season.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

The Greatest Show on Turf

While many may think of the St. Louis Rams when they hear the words, "Greatest Show on Turf," for those actually working in the turf industry, it's often the annual Golf Industry Show that comes to mind.  With a fantastic combination of educational offerings and large trade show, this year's show in Orlando did not disappoint.

One seminar which we found to be extremely informative discussed the impact of spray tank water quality on application efficacy.

We often use our irrigation system as the water source for our sprayers, so this is certainly relevant to us.  While we typically focus on water pH, this class shed light on the importance of other water quality issues such as hardness and turbidity.

With 250,000 square feet of space, the trade show always has a lot to offer.  The major turf equipment manufacturers can be counted on to have large booths displaying everything from mowers to blowers to aerifiers and bunker rakes.

However, it's often at the smaller booths that we find a new product or two which can help our operation.  Here's a few examples:
Flexible irrigation repair couplings--less digging is always a bonus!
A tool which uses both air and water for quick cleaning of equipment and carts.
A greens roller which requires no trailer to transport from hole to hole.

Additionally, the show provides an opportunity to catch up with other superintendents and share some tips and tricks which are working at our golf courses.  There is a lot to take in, and we always return home with some new ideas which we can implement into our operation this golf season.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Mystery Solved

For several years, #16 green has been notorious for poor irrigation pressure.  Running two or more sprinklers at once has been a problem, so some further investigation was in order.  We weren't able to take the valve apart in the ground, so the decision was made to replace it.

Once the old valve was removed, our suspicions were confirmed.  The gate which should rise and fall as the valve is opened and closed, was stuck and open only about 25%, severely restricting water flow to the green.

With the valve placed in a vice, it's easy to see the gate was only slightly opened.
How it should look with the gate out of the way.
In addition to the gate not operating, the wheel handle had rusted and fell off the stem.

The tricky part when replacing components on our system is that virtually all of the pipe is gasketed--that is, basically just pushed together, and held in place by the weight of the soil over top of it.  Because of this, we had to make sure that there was no gap between pipes when the repair coupling was installed, and be certain that the pipe couldn't move at all.  Had there been any gap, the feed for the greens loop could easily have popped out of the Tee fitting it was in.
Concrete and rebar on both sides of the valve should prevent any pipe movement.

The only downside to making repairs such as this in the winter is that it will be at least six weeks until we pressurize the system and get to find out if the repair was a good one.  With any luck, we'll find that the sprinkler performance will be greatly improved on this green going forward.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

When You Need Eyes in the Back of Your Head

Prior to making any spray application on the golf course, the equipment is thoroughly inspected to be sure it is functioning correctly.  This includes checking the rate on the sprayer's controller, as well as a visual inspection of the nozzles' spray pattern.  In addition, as the spray tech is operating the sprayer, they are watching the nozzles--that is, the nozzles they can actually see.

While the nozzles on the left and right booms are easily checked from the operator's seat, the rear, middle boom is not (even if you had eyes in the back of your head).  So, while a sprayer may be performing well when initially tested at the maintenance facility, over the course of spraying out 300 gallons, things can go wrong.  This includes a hose leaking, a broken nozzle body, or a clogged nozzle.  Obviously any of these can cause an area to receive too much, or too little of the product being applied.
An unseen nozzle issue caused a misapplication on #6 fairway.

In order to improve the view of the center boom, we've tried some things in the past, such as installing mirrors, without much success.  This time we went in a different direction, and backed into  the solution:  For $33 on Amazon, we found a nice backup camera and monitor.
The camera was mounted to a bracket on the back of the sprayer.  

If you're wondering what the little yellow flags above the camera are for, it's another proactive step in keeping everyone safe in the workplace.  There was concern that someone might accidentally walk into the camera's mounting bracket when the machine is parked in the building--the flags act like mini safety cones.
The view from the driver's seat.

A close-up of the screen with the three rear nozzles visible.

While there may always be some fires to put out in any operation, we are hopeful that the addition of this camera will be another good step towards fire prevention.

Sunday, January 22, 2017


Rarely does a season pass by when we don't find ourselves taking on a new and challenging project.  Most recently, the Clubhouse renovation and expansion means that the irrigation controller located outside the Pro Shop needed to be relocated.

While this may not sound like a big deal, when you consider how many wires merge at this box, getting everything to a new location took some planning.  The wiring includes 32 zone control wires from all over the Clubhouse grounds, a common wire, a 120 volt power supply wire, and a communication cable which comes from the golf course maintenance building.

When it comes time to relocate an irrigation controller, one option is to unbolt the box, frame and pour a pad of concrete at the new location.  Of course, there is another option--carefully dig up the whole thing and move it.

Irrigation wires weren't the only pieces of infrastructure exiting the Clubhouse on the side.  A fiber optic cable which runs to the Cabana and golf course maintenance building, and the 480 volt fan power wires also needed to be moved.

Buster keeps an eye on things as conduit is installed behind the Clubhouse.

Just a few of the wires which will need to be relocated.
With a number of obstacles to cross (such as landscape lighting, irrigation pipes, and drain lines) almost all of the digging was done by hand.  Fortunately, the temperatures have been mild, and the sandy soil around the Clubhouse made for easy trenching.  The team did a great job in getting this project knocked out, so we'll be ready to go when spring comes.